save your tarts

I have a confession to make. In all the time I have spent in the kitchen, I have never made minestrone soup. Ever. I mean doesn’t it seem like that should be some sort of prerequisite? Truth be told, I have only eaten minestrone soup a handful of times. I don’t know, its just never really jumped out at me. But then, a few weeks ago, I perusing one of my favorite coffee table books – M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating – and I came across something that intrigued me. I should note that I find a lot of intriguing bits in this hefty volume. This is a book that pretty much has a permanent home on or around the couch, as it is the only way I will ever get through all 749 pages of it. I love picking it up for a quick escape – Fisher’s style, wry sense of humor, and culinary opinions are such a refreshing treat. And it’s the type of book you can open to just about any page and start reading. Which is what I did the other week. And here is what Mary Frances has to say about minestrone.

“Probably the most satisfying soup in the world for people who are hungry, as well as for those who are tired or worried or cross or in debt or in a moderate amount of pain or in love or in robust health or in any kind of business huggermuggery, is minestrone.”

Clearly, I have been missing out on something. Why have I not made this soup? So I tagged it with one of my favorite little sticky notes. And then I went to go look up “huggermuggery” in the dictionary: 1. disorderly confusion; muddle 2. secrecy, concealment. I’ve yet to throw it out conversationally, but I’m working on it.

Back to the soup. M.F.K. has plenty to say on the subject and debates the merits of a water base versus bean broth, which some actually say is not a minestrone at all, but a minestra – who knew? Bacon, or ham, or no meat at all, pasta, no pasta? I have so much catching up to do in world of minestrone! Fisher goes on to quote Mrs. Mazza, who wrote “a plate of this pottage, topped with grated Romano, served with crisp garlicked sour-dough bread, a salad and a glass of wine, and I have dined.” And although Fischer evidentially had her disagreements with Mrs. Mazza regarding the preparation, she does give her this much: “For the rest of the meal, Mrs. Mazza and I are one. There is no point doing much else, the night you make minestrone, because nobody will eat anything else anyway. Save your tarts for a leaner hungrier night.” That’s it. I was sold. Minestrone was in my future.

So after a particularly arduous day this past week, I knew the time had come. I rounded up onions, potatoes, celery, cabbage, carrots, garlic, greens, and a bit of bacon. Then I poured a glass of wine, put on some Buddy Guy, and got to work. I pretty much followed M.F.K.’s recipe – which is always a hoot, in and of itself. I adapted it here and there, but what follows is her original recipe. It’s a treasure. And yes, I felt remarkably better after eating a bowl of warm minestrone. It fed us for several meals, and the last of it just went into the freezer for the next time I get involved in a little huggermuggery.

A Basic Minestrone
from M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf

1/2 pound bacon or salt pork
1 small onion chopped
1 stalk chopped celery
1 handful chopped parsley
2 cups tomatoes, peeled
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon oregano

Soften the onion in the heated meat-fat, add celery, parsley and herbs, and stir for 10 minutes to make a glaze, adding a little water if necessary. Add the tomato, stirring constantly and taking care not to burn. Stir in 2 or 3 quarts of water. Add a little mace if you like it. (At which point she quips…This soup is fun, because it’s so malleable!)

Put at least the first five of the following vegetables through the fine grinder of the vegetable chopper. OR cut them not too finely, let them simmer until tender, and then mash well with a potato masher before you add any pasta. I like this method better than the one I gave before. (Amusing that she still gives the vegetable chopper method then!)

2 large onions
1 potato, skin and all
1/2 small cabbage (Savoy preferably)
3 carrots
6 stalks celery
some spinach…say a big handful
some green beans…the same
You see what I mean?

Bring the whole thing slowly to a boil, and then let simmer until the vegetables are very tender. Add some pasta twenty minutes before serving if you like (not until the next day if you plan to use the minestrone more than once). Churn the soup ferociously, and serve over thin toasted bread or not, but always with a good ample bowl of grated dry cheese to sprinkle upon each serving, as the pleased human who eats it may desire.

*Note: I was most befuddled by the instructions to “churn the soup ferociously.” Maybe I made some huge minestrone faux pas, but I opted to give it a few pulses with the immersion blender. I also set the bottle of red wine vinegar on the table with the parmesan cheese. Both were magnificent additions.

4 Responses to “save your tarts”

  1. 1 Lee Kaster January 15, 2011 at 9:08 am

    I made this minestrone a couple weeks ago for the g’kids & to my surprise they loved it. They’re picky, Lee

    MINESTRONE SOUP by Moosewood Cookbook

    1-1/2 C cooked Pinto Beans 1 C Tomato, fresh, chpd
    ½ C dry Pasta (broken spaghetti noodles)
    3 T Olive oil 1 C Onion, chpd 5 Cl Garlic, mncd
    1 C Celery, chpd 1 C Carrot, chpd 1 C Zucchini, cubd
    1 C Grn Pepper, chpd 1 t Salt 1/3 t Blk Pepper
    1 t Oregano 1 t Basil
    1 sm can Tomato paste or 2 C Tomato puree
    3 C Water or veg stock 12 oz can V-8 3 T Dry Red Wine

    Parmesan cheese & ½ C Parsley, chpd for topping

    Sauté onion & garlic til translucent. Add salt, carrot, celery. Mix, cook 2 min . Add oregano, blk pepper, and basil; cover & heat low for 5 min. Add grn pepper, zucchini, puree, stock, V-8, cooked beans and wine. Cover & simmer 15 min.
    Add tomato & pasta, heat gently to boil, til pasta is tender.
    Serve topped with parm & parsley

  2. 2 gina January 15, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Minestrone and Pasta Fagioli were staples in my childhood. i was never too keen on the Minestrone because my mom put lima beans in it! I look forward to trying this recipe….I’m certain you discovered it’s ALWAYS better warmed up the next day!

  3. 3 Mom January 16, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I’m guessing there are as many variations on Minestrone as there are cooks who make it. Since I have an addiction to cookbooks, food magazines and clipping recipes I decided to look further. I must have 20 or so clipped recipes and each one different – pasta, rice, beans, different veggies and spices. Lidia’s Italian American cookbook tells me minestra is a soup msde with legumes, vegetables or meat, alone or in any combination, to which pasta,rice (beans) are added at the end of cooking” I may not have been following an exact recipe but this sounds like many of the soups I make using bits of this and that – cleaning out the frig soup! Also found an interesting use of leftover Farmhouse Minestrone in Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s “How to Eat Supper” called Tuscan Baked Minestrone with Garlie Bread (Ribollita). Chunks of stale whole grain bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, covered with minestrone, handfuls of Parmigiano-Reggiao tucked in, refrigerated overnite and baked next day – sounds good to me and I’ll be making Minestrone to find out.

  4. 4 GarlicPig January 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Like I said – so much catching up to do! All these sound great. Gina, I’d love to see Carolyn’s recipe – I actually like limas. Did she use fresh or dried?

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